As It Happens·Q&A

Ontario's latest school shut down has this mom feeling both 'rage and relief'

Ottawa's Ariel Troster says she and every parent she knows feels completely abandoned by the provincial government during the pandemic.

Ariel Troster says the province wouldn’t be in this position had the Ford government acted sooner

Ariel Troster's daughter was due to return to Grade 4 at her Ottawa elementary school on Wednesday. (Submitted by Ariel Troster)

Story Transcript

Ottawa's Ariel Troster says she and every parent she knows feels completely abandoned by the provincial government during the pandemic.

Troster's daughter was set to return to her Grade 4 classroom in person on Wednesday. But that all changed on Monday, when Premier Doug Ford announced new public safety measures on Monday aimed at curbing a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the province, spurred by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Ontario is moving schools online for at least two weeks. Though they were asked repeatedly by reporters on Monday, provincial officials did not provide any specific steps they plan to take in order to ensure a safe return to school on Jan. 17.

That's what worries Troster. A delayed school start only does so much, she said. She's calling on the province to implement safety measures such as widespread testing and HEPA filter units to make schools safer. 

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

How are you feeling after Premier Ford's announcement this morning?

I'm feeling a very strange combination of rage and relief. But mostly rage. 

What's causing the rage?

Children are being left out in the cold with their education interrupted yet again.

For so many parent advocates and health-care workers, we've been begging for weeks for the government to do something as we saw the rapid spread of COVID happening in our communities. 

I do admit a little bit of relief because the case counts are so high. The thought of sending my daughter to school seems so dangerous. But all I have to say is I sure hope that the government listens to all of us who are advocating and actually does implement the measures we've been asking for during this two-week closure so kids can return to school.

Premier Doug Ford explains why Ontario classes are moving online

9 months ago
Duration 0:49
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says schools will go online for the next two weeks because he expects a lot of teachers may be knocked out of commission by the coronavirus. 'The ground is shifting every single day,' he said. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

How would things have been different if Premier Ford and his cabinet had made the decision sooner?

I would have hoped that a whole bunch of other decisions would have been made before closing school. So all of the other congregate settings that are now being closed at the same time, like gyms and bars — you know, there were 10,000 people at a Raptors game last week — all of those things should have been closed before school was closed in an effort to actually try to make a difference in these case counts.

Many of us also for months were begging for the Ontario government to release rapid tests for us to be able to use … so that we could test our children regularly before they were fully vaccinated. That didn't happen.

Also, I'm hearing from so many teachers who are terrified to go back to the classroom, especially if they haven't had a chance to have the booster shot yet.

So a lot of these things could have been done weeks ago. And now here we are with the scramble and with kids missing out on their education again.

You said that in addition to being frustrated and feeling rage, you also have some relief. What was worrying you most about sending your daughter back to school on Wednesday?

Like so many parents, I know I was completely shocked by the announcement last week that we would no longer have access to PCR tests, and children in schools would not have access to PCR tests. And rapid tests are in short supply.

So we no longer have any data about COVID rates in our communities, and the government is going to stop reporting on COVID rates in schools and in daycares.

So I was very worried about sending my daughter to school. But I also made the decision early on to accelerate the second dose of her vaccine, which not a lot of people know that you can do. Health Canada approved the paediatric vaccine with the three-week interval. The recommendation [from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization] is eight weeks, but more and more parents that I know are accelerating that second dose.

You are in the Ottawa area. Among the people who have said that schools need to stay open for the well-being of children is Ottawa's medical officer of health. What do you feel about that position?

I agree with her that schools should stay open, but at this point, I do think a couple of weeks of a circuit breaker could be very helpful. But only if, in this two-week period, the government accelerates and prioritizes booster shots for teachers, really makes sure that there is a HEPA filter in every classroom, and also advertises the fact that parents can accelerate the second doses of vaccine for kids.

And also really consider something like a vaccine mandate for schools, for actual students. That hasn't even been on the table at all.

And then also whatever rapid tests are still sitting in fridges or in cupboards, to release them so that at least parents can use that as a tool to screen their kids at least once a week, so we can have a better sense of what's going on in the schools in terms of COVID.

Ontario Premier Dog Ford announces new measures to curb spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant on Monday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Your daughter is in the fourth grade, and this is now going to be three school years that she's had part of the year at least interrupted. How is she taking the news today?

She's initially a little excited because she likes the idea of staying home with her two moms, but she doesn't realize that in a few days things are definitely going to change.

The last couple of times that school was interrupted were really difficult. My wife and I are lucky enough to work from home, but we're working all day and she often requires assistance with her schoolwork and she doesn't have the teacher physically there. And so that could be tough to manage.

It was tough to get her outside for any physical activity because, again, we were in the middle of our own workdays. And it was also very lonely for her as an only child, not being around other kids.

We would not be in this situation right now if the government had taken proactive measures earlier.​​​​​​- Ariel Troster, Ottawa mother 

It sounds like you're able to make this work, at least in part, by working from home. What do you say to parents who simply can't do that, who can't supervise their child and hold down their jobs?

Their government is failing them. This is what we're all feeling.

And it's mostly women who are having to make this choice. The statistics show women are leaving the workforce in droves because of COVID [and] becoming primary caregivers of their kids. It's truly an impossible situation to have to choose between your own livelihood and your child's education, and to not know whether it's safe to send your child into a school building.

Every parent I know feels abandoned, whether they work at home and are able to sort of semi-manage and patch things together, or whether this has a huge economic impact on their family because they can't take shifts at work where they have to leave the house.

Unfortunately, it's led to a lot of debate amongst parents and a lot of hard feelings because some people are saying schools need to stay open no matter what, and other people are concerned and say they should be closed because they're unsafe.

We would not be in this situation right now if the government had taken proactive measures earlier.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC Toronto. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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